“They Call It Grandmother Because It Is Grand!”
In an interview with RBGM digital archivist Sara Daise, Pat Munson (March 29, 1958-) discusses her humble beginnings growing up in Los Angeles, California. It was there that her activism began. Spurred on by Watergate and police brutality in the black community, she spent her late teens and early 20s involved in Civil Rights marches, rallies, and protests. Pat continues to fight for equality around issues that she cares about, including racial and LGBTQ equity. When she isn’t being active in her community, family and among friends, she contributes to her community in her role as a photojournalist. Her most important role in her life right now is her role as a grandmother. In addition to spending as much time with her four grandchildren as possible, she is raising her 14-year-old granddaughter. When Pat’s friends become new grandparents she welcomes them to the grandparent club. She conveys, “they call it grandmother instead of mother, it’s grandmother. It still gives me a second chance at motherhood.”
Listen to the interview here:
Journey to motherhood:
I had my child at 16. I think I was 16 when I had my daughter. It was not planned.
I couldn’t have done it by myself. I had no clue. I‘m 16-years-old. I had no clue about a baby. And the thing was I recognized, I had just really come to grips with the idea that I liked women, that I was a lesbian. This happened during that time when I had just had come to grips with that and had settled into that and was very happy with that. It’s like, “Okay, now I feel okay and I know who I am,” and this came about. It was pretty complicated, pretty complicated.
Anyway, I got through it. I got through it and a few years later I moved up to the Bay Area, got married. I had a son. Life went on. I went back and forth. I left my husband. I went back. I left him again. I said, “Okay that’s it. I can’t do this. I tried it. I can’t do it. This is not for me. It’s not who I am.” But because of my religious beliefs and my religious training coming up in the church where they told you homosexuality was an abomination and you would go to hell and burn forever I tried to fight it. I tried to fight it. I tried to do the right thing …. but it didn’t work. It didn’t work.
Anyway, I left and went back and forth for one or two times until I really decided, “Okay, this it. I’m not going to force myself to do this any longer.” By now I had these two children and so I decided to join the army so I could become independent, take care of myself, take care of the children. I was in the army for a few years and that worked out. I got a chance to travel a little bit, go overseas and travel around and do some things. Came back and just going through life, doing what I do, going to school, going to church, just doing everything.
Journey to grandmotherhood:
At some point, my daughter had her daughter. She was about 30-something I guess when she finally had a kid. She had a daughter and then she eventually had a son. My son, he had gotten married later on in the 2000s and he had a little daughter 2 ½, she was 2 ½, and he had a wife she was pregnant with his son. He was killed. My son was murdered in 2010. But I have these two beautiful grandchildren from him and two beautiful grandchildren from my daughter. So, that’s how I became a grandmother and I just got really involved.
Being a grandmother:
I thank God that I was in a position to raise my granddaughter right now because it is so dangerous out here. When I say out here, just in the world, in America, it is so dangerous and at this age. She’s 14 and she’s at a very vulnerable, impressionable age. I just thought it best that she comes to live with me because I have more time, more patience and experience and I’m a little more settled than my daughter is right now.
So, in a lot of ways, I’m very thankful and grateful that I can raise her—that I have the opportunity to raise her or to pour into her. That hopefully she can grow up to be a very healthy and productive young woman. On the other hand, it’s changing my lifestyle quite a bit. Because I’ve been for the past, I don’t know, past ten years I guess I’ve just been free to do, go, come, stay as long as I want to. Go away as long as I want to. Move about, like I said travel. Go and do whatever I felt like doing. So, now I’m a little more restrained in my movements and what I do. I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a wonderful thing.
Differences between motherhood and grandmotherhood:
It’s another level of love. It’s a much deeper level of love and just a freer love, to love grandkids. I love my children. I love my children dearly you know. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my daughter, nothing I wouldn’t do for my son when he was here. But the love of grandchildren is so special. It is so very special. What I call it is I call it a second chance. That I was too young when I had my daughter and even when I had my son I was still young, I think 20 when I had him. I still had some wild oats to sow. So, I just feel like I just wasn’t there emotionally as I am now. I guess it’s just an age progression normal thing that I didn’t have then but now it’s like I am here physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, for these grandkids. So, I get to instill something in them and I get a second chance at raising children although they are my grandchildren.
I get to spend a lot of time with them and teach them things, show them things, expose them, give them experiences that I did not have perhaps when I was a kid and maybe some things. I tried to give my children a lot of experiences as well when they were little. I tried to give them a lot because I didn’t have any growing up. Our thing was mainly church, church, school, home and family- that was it. I saw some other children maybe going to Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm and amusement parks out here and it was like we couldn’t do that. We could not afford it. And a lot of other experiences like traveling and going places, doing things, even simple trips to the library. My mother didn’t have time for that because she was trying to raise nine, ten children and mostly as a single parent. My father wasn’t there half the time.
So, with my grandchildren, I get to do all these things now, all these things that I didn’t get, things that I could not give my children. Not just material things because that’s not the most important thing. Material stuff comes and goes and it doesn’t make you happy. So, I’m trying to instill in them a deep love for life, for people, for humanity and to instill in them some things that you can’t buy, you can’t buy. No matter how much money, how great of a job or whatever you have, these are things that you cannot buy and that’s what I’m trying to instill in them. I try to teach them about education. You need education. I really stress that to all of them.
So, that has been a journey and that has been my experience with having grandkids and like I said just having a second chance at motherhood. They call it grandmother instead of mother, its grandmother. It still gives me a second chance at motherhood.
Sara: Yeah, because you’re so grand.
Pat: Well, yeah I’m grand. I am grand. [Laughter]
Being a lesbian grandmother:
I do not believe the way I used to believe. I do not believe all of the dogma, all the indoctrination, all the denominational stuff that they taught me growing up. I just don’t believe that stuff anymore. I don’t believe in this vengeful, evil, mean God that will punish you for every little thing.
Pat: Right, exactly. Burn me up forever because I can’t be perfect although he said I couldn’t be perfect but now I’m supposed to try to be perfect and if I’m not. It’s crazy. It’s absolutely absurd some of the stuff they taught us and makes angry sometimes actually because it messes with your head. For a small child to be taught all these things from the bible by ministers and preachers and your mom and other people, half of my family are ministers.
Pat: Half of my family are ministers. You know the other half are hoodlums. [Laughter] I think I fall in the middle. I fall in the middle where you have a little bit of both sides in me. I believe in God, but I don’t go for all that other stuff now. I just believe in God and having a personal relationship with God. God of the universe. Or the universe. Or just something, something I know is powerful, is great, is wonderful, but it’s not all that stuff they told me. “You’re going to hell for this. You’re going to hell for that.” We couldn’t wear pants growing up.
Sara: But I wonder how do you pass your beliefs, which you have cultivated over your life to your grandchildren?
Pat: Well, I have come up with this mantra or this motto that “It’s All About Love.”
Sara: I love it.
Pat: It’s all about love.
Sara: Yes it is.
Pat: If we can just base everything off of that I think anything we teach from the perspective of love is great. It’s great because it stops the judgment. I try to teach the grandkids just to love, to be kind. Not to be doormats, don’t be doormats. Don’t think you have to just lie down and let people walk all over you to be loving and kind. But to be open to people and to be kind, to be helpful and to be respectful and first to respect themselves, to be kind and to be good to themselves. That’s the main thing.
As far as a God, I tell them that there is God. I say there is something, someone who had to put all of this together. There is something or someone who blows the wind. There is something or someone who put the stars, the moon, the sun, in the sky. Man couldn’t do it. There is someone who put this ocean and makes the waves flow. Man cannot do this. These mountains, I live here in the desert, all around me are these beautiful mountains and there is different textures. On the east side, you have these brown, bushy mountains maybe on the west side of this valley you have these very rocky mountains with these big boulders and rocks and all of that. On this side, you may have grass. So, you know man didn’t do this. Man didn’t get out there and carve these mountains.
Fondest grandmother memory:
When my granddaughter was born, I was there when she was born. When my grandson was born because he was born two months after his father was killed and I was up there when he was born, up there in the Bay Area. Those are some of the fondest. When I get to take my daughter’s two children who live down here because my granddaughter lives with me now. But we would get in the car and drive up there [Bay Area] and we would go and have either a barbecue in the park or get some food or something with the other two grandkids.
That was just great to have all four of my grandkids because that was a struggle that was a process because after my son was killed the relationship with his wife it just kind of dwindled. It just kind of went away. She just wanted to just forget she knew us I guess. She just wanted to kind of do away with us. So, that was a struggle. That ended up being a court battle to see those grandkids. Once we got past that and now we have a pretty good relationship and I get to have all four of these grandchildren, going to the zoo, going to the park or going to the pizza place, celebrating a birthday. We celebrated Christmas together last year … Not last year, the year before.
It’s the best. It’s just a great wonderful feeling to have this because it’s not a given. It’s not a given. You know what I mean? It’s not a given. It’s a hard fought battle to be able to spend time with these children and to have them. I’m looking at a picture of them right now and it’s like wow. I’m in tears just looking at the picture of the four of us and I’m just looking at it and these beautiful kids. So, just spending time with them. It’s wonderful. To have them come when they see me and they just come running, “Granny.” They come excited and hugging me, it is the best. It is the best. That is the best.
Compared to her grandmother:
My grandparents were not well off. Neither of them, my paternal nor my maternal grandmothers were well off. So, just for them to get up and go make some homemade biscuits, to cook some homemade biscuits and some bacon and just to stand around the stove as a youngster, to stand around the stove while they were cooking, that was to me that was like some of the best memories, some of the best memories. And so now to bake a cake with my granddaughter or my grandson, one grandson he loves me to make smoothies for him.
He loves it. Oh, my God, he loves it. Like every time, “Granny can you make a smoothie?” When I went to his house or he came here, “Granny can you make a smoothie?” He would go into the refrigerator, he get the bananas and he gets the strawberries.
My little granddaughter, the one up in the Bay Area she loves to go to Toys “R” Us. Every time I see her it’s like okay. She wants to go to Toys “R” Us and In-N-Out Burger. Just doing little things like that with them is special, very special.
Other insights- They call it grandparents, grandmother because it is grand. It really is!
My daughter was I think 32 so she got pregnant but it was like, I wasn’t happy about it. I was not happy. I’m not being a grandmother. I’m too young to be a grandmother. Oh my God, I was just terrible. I said, “I’m not babysitting. I’m not going to do any of that.” That little girl came out and she was just the most precious, the most beautiful, the prettiest little girl you ever want to see. I was in love. I was just in love. So, it’s more than what I could have imagined because I guess I never thought about it. I just always thought I was too young for that. I always thought I was too young for that at the time, you know?
I never knew what my mother felt for my daughter. Because I was so young my mother was really there for me and she just loved my daughter. She was so crazy about my daughter. I never understood that. You just can’t understand it until you’re there I guess. Now I see it and every time friends of mine… All of my friends now are having grandchildren, we just at that age and so when they tell me, “Oh, I’m just having my grandson, grandbaby, granddaughter, whatever,” I’m like, “Welcome, welcome to the grandparents club. Welcome to the club! It is just grand.” That’s why they call it grandparents, grandmother because it is grand. It really is!